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Playing a blinder

April 22, 2019

If you’re not Canadian you might want to stop here, because I’m not going to take time to explain who all the characters are.

Nathan Cullen came to Gabriola yesterday. I got to shake his hand. I got to hug him. I got tell him he’s broken my heart.

But I get ahead of myself.

sheila nomination

A few years ago I was one of the hundreds of people who marched off the ferry (led by a marching band) and into the Nanaimo conference centre to secure Sheila Malcolmson’s nomination to be the NDP candidate for the riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith, which included our island. There were several candidates, one of whom was clearly the favourite of the party’s backroom boys. In the second round of voting, we (Sheila) triumphed.

In the October 2015 general election she became our MP, which probably wasn’t all that surprising, given that, with one rare exception, this riding has voted NDP for many decades. (Brief pause for everyone who isn’t a Canadian, to say NDP stands for New Democratic Party – otherwise known as social democrats.) She served us well, working hard on women’s, indigenous and environmental issues.

Then British Columbia had a provincial election. When the votes were counted, the anything-but-Liberals had secured 43 seats, the NDP had 41 and the Greens had three. To save you doing the math, the slimmest possible majority would have required 44 seats. Eventually the NDP entered into a coalition with the Greens and formed a government.

Then Leonard Krog NDP MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) ran for and was elected mayor of Nanaimo. Oops. No we needed to have a provincial by-election and the NDP absolutely had to win the seat or their government would fall.

Sheila was approached, asked (and I suspect begged) to come home and save the NDP government, which she did.

Now I’m not saying the NDP government in BC hasn’t done some good things on health and education, but their environmental record is absolutely atrocious.

One of the promises John Horgan, the NDP premier, made during the election campaign was to cancel the controversial Site C dam project. He broke this promise.

Recently the BC government passed legislation (with the support of not-so-Liberal MLAs  and to the utter disgust of Green MLAs) that could see a massive expansion of LNG fracking in the province.

Suffice to say that those of us on the coast who lean left, vote NDP and support environmental protection are incandescent with rage.

And now we have an opportunity to use our votes to teach the NDP a lesson.

Okay, we won’t be teaching the provincial NDP that lesson, because our next vote is in a by-election to replace Sheila as our member of parliament. (This, after Trudeau initially said there would be no by-election.)

A lot of people have vowed to vote Green in this by-election. Despite really not liking the Green candidate, I had pretty much made up my mind to do this. Okay, voting Green in a federal election doesn’t punish the provincial NDP, but it sends a message, right?

A few days ago I received a recorded phone message from Sheila, inviting me to a meet and greet on Gabriola with NDP candidate Bob Chamberlain. Now don’t get me wrong. Indigenous leader Bob Chamberlain is a fine man and would make a fine MP. I’d already decided I would vote for him in October’s general election, but my fury at the provincial NDP was still burning brightly. It wouldn’t kill the NDP if we had a Green MP for a few months.

I wouldn’t say Sheila and I are “friends”, but we know and like one another a lot. Still, I’m not sure I would have accepted her invitation if she hadn’t dangled this particular carrot: in addition to Bob and Sheila, “coastal protector” Nathan Cullen would also be there. I was not going to miss an opportunity to meet Nathan Cullen.

For true progressives in this country, Nathan Cullen is the one who got away.

Occasionally you come across a politician whom you instinctively know is the real deal. I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times this has happened to me in Canada.

One was Jack Layton, who led the NDP to Official Opposition status for the first time in 2011. Later that year he tragically died. As a result, there was a leadership contest. The clear favourite of the backroom boys was Tom Mulcair, a Quebec MP who’d been one of the party’s backroom boys for years.

But there was an upstart candidate: Nathan Cullen, the MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley in northwest British Columbia. Nathan had Jack’s flair and, although I’d never met him, I was pretty sure he was also the real deal. To progressives like me Nathan was obviously the best candidate and the NDP’s best shot at holding on to the ridings Jack had won.

When it came to the vote I couldn’t believe members of the NDP could be so stupid, could fail to see what a prize was there for the taking, couldn’t believe Nathan came third in every vote and ultimately lost to Mulcair. (Brian Topp, another party hack, came second.)

In the 2015 federal election Mulcair led the party back to distant-third party oblivion. The party rewarded him by booting him out.

Hurrah, I thought, now they will correct their stupid error. Now they will elect Nathan party leader. But Nathan, to my dismay and the dismay of many, many others, did not throw his hat in the ring. Instead, after a long, drawn out leadership contest, the NDP chose Jagmeet Singh, an Ontario MPP (Member of the Provincial parliament), as its leader.

I don’t want to talk about Jagmeed Singh. Despite the fact that he’s made absolutely no impression on me so far, I’m sure he’s a fine man. But he ain’t Jack. And he ain’t Nathan.

Watch this speech. Seriously.

Jagmeet Singh does not have it in him to make this speech.

So imagine my heartbreak when I learnt that Nathan will not be running in this October’s federal election. Noooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! His voice in Parliament is desperately needed.

Clearly I wasn’t going to miss out on telling him all this yesterday. We had a long chat. (Turns out we have friends in common.) I suspect – hope – he still has political plans. Premier of BC? Fantastic. (Sorry, John Horgan, but you had your chance.)

In return, Nathan persuaded me that Bob Chamberlain is the real deal. The Green candidate I never liked can whistle for my vote. I’m back in the fold. I wonder how many other Gabriolans Nathan persuaded?

Inviting him here yesterday really was playing a blinder.

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